It Runs in the Family

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It was brave of Kirk Douglas, his speech impaired by a 1995 stroke, to continue acting. I just wish he would choose better projects than “It Runs in the Family,” a well-meaning but mediocre movie that in no way bolsters his considerable filmography.

Director Fred Schepisi (“Roxanne,” “Six Degrees of Separation”) no doubt was thrilled at the stunt casting: Kirk, Michael and Cameron Douglas play grandfather, father and son in a dysfunctional Manhattan family. Michael’s real-life mother (and Kirk’s ex-wife), Diana Douglas, plays his mother. Michael’s real-life wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones … well, she was busy, or something. Bernadette Peters stands in for her.

Kirk is Mitchell Gromberg, a once-powerful lawyer who has been hindered by a stroke. His son, Alex, declined becoming a partner in dad’s firm and now seeks out pro bono cases and does soup-kitchen duty, perhaps out of a guilty conscience. His son, Asher, is a 21-year-old pothead and slacker who forgets to pick Grandma up at the doctor’s office because he’s busy selling marijuana. He has a 12-year-old brother, Eli (Rory Culkin, of another acting family), whose quiet demeanor and slight oddness worries his parents.

There is no plot to speak of; just strands of events and family drama, treated with only as much sobriety as necessary, generally favoring light comedy over heavy-handedness. And yet, the film is neither especially funny nor especially moving. It’s only real asset seems to be that it can use five decades of actual family photos as set decorations. The limp screenplay by Jesse Wigutow assumes that characters trying to understand themselves and each other automatically make for fascinating viewing, when in fact they do not.

The performances from all the Douglases, as well as the Peters and the Culkin, are charismatic. The film has good intentions and is sweet and earnest, but it’s hopelessly mediocre.

C- (1 hr., 49 min.; PG-13, lots of profanity, some vulgarity, some sexuality and brief partial nudity.)

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